Mary Chapman was born in 1647, the daughter of John Mann, one of the richest men in Norwich. At the age of 35 she married the Reverend Samuel Chapman, the incumbent at Thorpe Episcopi. They were married for 18 years, but had no children.
Both Mary and her husband were deeply concerned for the welfare of the mentally ill, a concern possibly stimulated by the fact that several members of both families suffered from poor mental health.
At this time, care of the mentally ill was inhumane and often brutal: they were treated like animals, shackled, and often served as exhibits to entertain the general public. This is well illustrated by Hogarth in his famous series of pictures 'The Rake's Progress'. When Samuel died, he left a considerable sum to be used to build 'a hospital for the habitation of poor lunatics, and not for natural born fools or idiots.' The Bethel Hospital was a very early example of its kind, and aimed to offer progressive, caring and sensitive approach to its residents. Worship and recreation were an integral part of the care given to inmates. Food was provided for the hospital from Mary Chapman's own farms, and she herself lived at the hospital before her death.
She is buried in the churchyard at Thorpe St. Andrew and although there is very little written about Mary Chapman, her name lives on in the street names, university residences and a care home.
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